Monday, September 3, 2012

2012 NFL Season Preview: NFC

(continued from AFC preview here)

While the AFC West in my opinion is the toughest division to predict, I think the NFC East is the second toughest division to predict. Yes, there is the Super Bowl champion Giants in this division, but predicting them to repeat as champions is not as easy as you may think,  mainly because they barely won the division and thus barely made the playoffs last year. Every season with Eli Manning thus far hasn't been a great dominant season, but they seem to be talented at pulling themselves together at just the right time. Even though Eli Manning has never really been considered one of the elite quarterbacks of the league, he has proven many times over that he is a very clutch quarterback, so you can never count the Giants out. Fighting against them are three underachieving teams that hope to break that trend. Leading that squad will be the Dallas Cowboys, who are always so consistent at choking. Every year in the last 10 years or so, the Cowboys have either made a push for the divisional title or won the divisional title. They have made the playoffs 6 times since the 1998 season, three of those being divisional titles, but have a playoff record of 1-6 in that span. Ouch. Tony Romo has especially taken the hit many times. He's always considered one of the best quarterbacks of the league and always puts up amazing stats, but has never been able to win when it mattered most. The Eagles have about the same story, but the major difference is that they've proven that they can actually win playoff games. In the same span that the Cowboys went 1-6, the Eagles have gone 10-9, meaning they know how to win playoff games, they just have troubles winning the most important playoff games. They've been predicted to win the Super Bowl many seasons by experts, but can't ever do it. Recently they've started to skid even worse. The last time they won a playoff game was back in the 2008 season. The Redskins on the other hand have been as disappointing as the Cowboys and Eagles. Instead they have been just plain awful. This year they have been given some hope in the form of RGIII, Robert Griffin III if you haven't been paying attention to football recently. While I think in the long run Andrew Luck will turn out to be the better quarterback from this year's draft, I think RGIII will start his career off better and could boost the Redskins to having a surprisingly good year in his rookie season. I don't think they will make the playoffs, but they could fight for a spot and give some teams some big headaches.

This here is the powerhouse division. It would not surprise me to see three teams from this division making the playoffs. The lone team out would of course be the Minnesota Vikings, who still really don't have an identity and in a division with the Packers, Lions, and Bears, they are certain to be stuck in the NFC North Basement. The other three, like I said, will dominate. Helping their cause will be the fact that the NFC North is matched up against the NFC West and the AFC South, the two weakest divisions in football right now. The Packers last season went 15-1 after winning the Super Bowl the year before. They bring back the same dominant team as last year while adding Cedric Benson and Jeff Saturday, which means they could have running game they always wanted. The Lions had their breakout year last year as Matt Stafford stayed healthy the whole season and threw for over 5,000 yards. Megatron (Calvin Johnson) also proved to be one of the best receivers in the league, if not the best. This year Megatron has a goal to get 100 receiving yards every game, which means that even if he doesn't make that goal, he will be working his tail off, making things scary for opposing defenses. Then you have the Bears. The Bears started off last season really strong at 7-3, but thanks to injuries to several key players they sputtered off and landed at 8-8. This year they will have those players healthy and in addition the Bears added Jason Campbell, Brandon Marshall, and Michael Bush. The Bears should be a scary team this year.

The big question here comes with the Saints. The bounty scandal was the huge story of the offseason and now that all the dust is settled, the aftermath is that the Saints lose their head coach Sean Payton for the entire season as well as linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire season. Assistant coach Joe Vitt and defensive end Will Smith get suspended for part of the season. Those are the suspensions that will effect the Saints. Can they recover from that? Sure they can. The biggest hit will be losing Sean Payton, the coach who essentially made the Saints what they are. If they can still win the division and make a playoff run, it will be the success story of the season, but it's my personal opinion that the other teams in their division take advantage of this setback and knock them out. I think it will be Matt Ryan and the Falcons that will take the division title. Ryan and the Falcons are still working out the whole idea of actually winning playoff games, but in his four years in the league, Ryan has led his Falcons to three playoff appearances, so I imagine them as the team to beat. The Panthers will also make some noise, that is if Cam Newton learns how to not turn the ball over. His rookie season was easily one of the best rookie seasons that a quarterback has ever had, so there is a lot of hope for the Panthers' future. Then there is the Bucs. A couple of years ago, the Bucs surprised a lot of people with a 10-6 record. With a young, talented team, most thought they would do just as good last year, but they ended up at 4-12. Quite the setback. That Bucs team learned what happens when you go from having a really easy schedule one season and a really hard schedule the next. However, they do have a good young team that I think can bounce back from last year. Plus, that's what happens in the NFC South. The team that got last place the year before often turns it around and has a good season the next year.

I really feel bad for this division. In the last while this has been one of the worst divisions in football and honestly I don't see that changing because the worst division in football gets blessed with the hardest schedule in football with the NFC North (Packers, Bears, Lions, Vikings) and the AFC East (Patriots, Jets, Dolpins, Bills). I think that Jim Harbaugh's 49ers will make it through that schedule, but the Rams, Seahawks, and Cardinals will struggle. Speaking of the 49ers, I don't think that they will match the 13-3 they pulled off last year, but Jim Harbaugh is still there, so Niner fans should be fine. Essentially last year he took a 5-11 team and without making any huge changes, he turned that into a 13-3 team. How many coaches can claim they did that in their first year? Without much competition, the Niners should reign as kings of this division for at least a few years. Honestly though, the team that I think will come second is the Rams. I don't say this because I am a Rams fan, I've tried to be pretty unbiased with this whole thing. I say that because of the Rams new head coach Jeff Fisher. If you remember his tenure with Titans, he had this talent of taking a team that looked terrible on paper and somehow bringing them to a decent to great record. The team never did exceptionally well in the playoffs, but they got there or got close to being there almost every year. With Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson, along with a defense that they've done a decent job in building up this offseason, Jeff Fisher could realistically resurrect this Rams team that has been buried in the NFC West basement for a while. The other teams I don't have a lot of faith in. Neither the Seahawks or the Cardinals have a team with an identity right now. Sure the Seahakws won the division two years ago, but that was with a 7-9 record. The Cards have gone back to being awful ever since Kurt Warner retired. Both the Seahawks and Cards are having quarterback issues at the moment and with the schedules the way they are, I think both will suffer this season and both could be looking for new head coaches at the end of the regular season.

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